The Aluminum Hame Gang
by Brandt Ainsworth of Franklin, NY
The sun doesn’t shine on this old dog’s rear end often enough, but it was bright the day I backed my team up to the sled and took it down the track while all the local pullers watched. The buckeye sled was loaded too heavy for a team of lightweights, and it had to come uphill for ten feet before the track leveled out. There were about ten teams of pulling horses that day. We were hooking horses, having a couple drinks, telling stories and even trading horses. Nobody wanted to hook to the buckeye sled where it sat, not even the heavyweight teams. The other guys weren’t watching the sled, so I decided to have a go at it. “Tiny-bop” saw me backing up to the sled and offered to hook his heavy team instead, because it was too much for my little team. I appreciated his offer but nodded and kept backing the team up with one hand and hooking the eveners with the other.
When the eveners were on, and I called on the team, all the guys were watching. The heavy sled came up the hill and down the track about thirty feet before I called them off. It all came together; the horses started together dropped down low and pulled hard with perfect form; when they slowed down at twenty feet, I called, “Here,” they found another gear and kept on pulling until I called them off. That was just how we dream it, when a puller closes his eyes. As the team rested in front of the sled, I tried to be nonchalant, but I was definitely “feeling it.” The guys slapped me on the back and Tiny-bop gave me an “atta boy.” But as I basked in the praise, I could see them looking at my team while laughing at a joke my buddy Tony made.
“Whats so funny?” I asked as I unhooked and tied my team to the wall with the other teams. “You’re the last member of the aluminum hame gang.” Tony said, grabbing the end of my lines and slapping my butt with them as I hung them from the near horses hames.
That day the sun shone on me, and on the dull patina of my aluminum hames, but it made me think about how my comrades looked at me. I wondered if I was so cheap it was a joke, or if my old equipment was just part of my charm. A little of both, I’m sure. When your good pulls are as few and far between as mine, you need a little charm to save face.
My rigging didn’t seem obsolete to me until Tony pointed it out. He was right. I bought these harnesses in 1993. That’s 25 years ago for those of you keeping score on the old and worn out scale. The harnesses are like the old saying about having Grampa’s hammer, but you twice replaced the head and three times replaced the handle. Over the last twenty five years I’ve added tail cruppers, changed the check straps, broke both belly bands and replaced them with saddle girths, repaired or changed numerous lazy straps, changed from swivel to D-ring heel chains, changed breast straps, hame straps, changed out the farm hames for aluminum pulling hames, and I’m on the third set of lines.
The day I changed out the farm hames and joined the aluminum hame gang, (and soon became it’s last member), was a high water mark for my cheapness. I was at my friend Tom’s house shooting the bull about horses, as he cleaned out a section of his barn in preparation for a new foal. He was hauling harness parts out of the barn and into a heap in the driveway getting them out of the way so he could make a foaling pen. I had no idea he was going to take the heap of harness parts to the dump. When I realized Tom’s waste; I pounced as quickly and greedily as a horse puller reaching into the cooler for the last can of beer. Tom laughed as I picked up the hames and some other parts and threw them into my truck. “Free is me.” I said, thinking of how often I used that phrase. Even in the mid-nineties, it had been a decade since most horsemen gave up on aluminum hames.
The aluminum hames worked okay, not great, but okay. They really never seemed lighter than steel hames, and you couldn’t bend and shape them to fit with precision. If you got them to fit your collar just right you were both lucky and patient. I usually take about a half hour of loosening and tightening the hame straps and messing with the elevators before I get them to somewhat fit the collar, and get the draft what I call “ballpark.” I would rather have a nice set of 26” steel pulling hames, (stainless would be really nice). Then again I’d like to trade my old truck in on one with a diesel engine, and four doors. I’ll drive the one I have for now, for the same reason I use aluminum hames thirty years after everyone else updated.
I announced one helluva horse pull last weekend. We drew thirty-one teams of horses to my little home town. Toward the end of the heavyweight class, when it was getting down to odd bouts, I commented on how immaculate the teams were. All 31 teams were well groomed, well clipped, the harness not only fit right, they were shiny and well maintained. The teams matched, and they all behaved well, and all 31 teams pulled with good effort. I not only commented on how well the teams looked, but how professional the teamsters were. The crowd agreed, and gave the pullers a warm ovation to show how much they appreciated the efforts.
It goes without saying that the hometown boy was announcing, rather than pulling; or the professionalism would have fallen off sharply. While they didn’t have my aluminum hames and harnesses that are wrapped in tape to goof on, I still provided some fodder for ridicule. Between classes I had gotten a roll of friction tape out of my truck and was wrapping it on a bare spot on the microphone cord. My buddy Tony, (remember his wit?), hollered to me; “That ain’t a set of harnesses you don’t need to tape up everything you touch.” I don’t get his humor, even though everyone else within earshot laughed the same as they did with his “aluminum hame gang” line. I guess being funny is subjective, and I’m often the subject.
My kids tell me that I’m an, “analog guy in a digital world.” It’s hard for me to argue that when, as I write this; I have an Eagles record playing in the background. You remember vinyl records; don’t you? As long as I’m in an admitting mood; I might as well admit it to Tony, and everyone else, that I really am the last member of the aluminum hame gang.
As soon as I’m paid what I’m worth, I’ll have a new set of spotted harness with bright hames. Maybe then, if the sun shines on this old dog’s rear once again; the boy’s will remember the man on the lines and not my buddy’s comedy routine.